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IN his celebrated treatise addressed to his friend Hartlib, Milton gives his ideas on the best mode of education for the “noble and gentle youth” of England, between the ages of twelve and twenty-one years.
He proposes that a house and grounds should be selected capable of lodging commodiously a hundred and fifty persons; to be both school and university. Of these about twenty should be attendants, the remainder teachers and students; the whole to be under the direction of one “of desert sufficient and ability either to do all, or wisely to direct and oversee it done.”
With respect to their studies, they should first be taught the chief and necessary rules of the Latin grammar, which language they should be made to pronounce as near the Italian manner as possible, especially in the vowels; “for we Englishmen,” he says, “being far northerly, do not open our mouths in the cold air wide enough to grace a southern tongue, but are observed by all other nations to speak exceeding close and inward; so that to smatter Latin with an English mouth is as ill a hearing as law French.” He would then have read to them some “easy and delightful book of education;” but though there is plenty of such in Greek, he can point out nothing of the kind in Latin, except the first books of Quintilian.
But here the main skill and groundwork will be, to temper them such lectures and explanations upon every opportunity as may lead and draw them in willing obedience, inflamed with the study of learning and the admiration of virtue, stirred up with high hopes of living to be brave men and worthy patriots, dear to God, and famous to all ages; that they may despise and scorn all their childish and ill-taught qualities, to delight in manly and liberal exercises, which he who hath the art and proper eloquence to catch” them with—what with mild and effectual persuasions, and what with the intimation of some fear, if need be, but chiefly by his own example—might, in a short space, gain them to an incredible diligence and courage, infusing into their young breasts such an ingenuous and noble ardour as would not fail to make many of them renowned and matchless men.
During this period they might be taught arithmetic and the elements of geometry, “even playing.” Between supper and bed-time they might be instructed in the easy grounds of religion and the Scripture history.
They are then to be put to read the agricultural writers, Cato, Varro, Columella; for even if the language be difficult, it is not a difficulty above their years. Hence, he infers, they will learn how to cultivate and improve the soil of their country. Before they are half through these authors, he thinks they must be masters of any ordinary Latin prose. They may now also learn the use of the globes in some modern author, and all the maps, “first with the old names and then with the new ;” or they might be able to read some compendious method of natural philosophy. They might at this time also commence Greek, in the same manner as the Latin, first reading the historical physiology of Aristotle and Theophrastus. To these they can add Vitruvius, Seneca's Natural Questions, Mela, Celsus, Pliny, or Solinus, and then “they may descend in mathematics to the instrumental science of trigonometry, and from thence to fortification, architecture, enginery, or navigation; and in natural philosophy, they may proceed leisurely from the history of meteors, minerals, plants, and living creatures, as far as anatomy.” Then also might be read to them, “out of some not tedious writer,” the institutions of physic; as this may be of use to a man's self and to his friends, and even enable him, at times, to save an army from wasting away by disease. In these various studies, they may obtain, some for pay, some for favour, the aid and instruction of hunters, shepherds, gardeners, architects, mariners, anatomists, etc. “Then also those poets which are now counted most hard will be both facile and pleasant, Orpheus, Hesiod, Theocritus, Aratus, Nicander, Oppian, Dionysius; and in Latin, Lucretius, Manilius, and the rural parts of Virgil.” They may now commence the study of ethics, reading for that purpose the moral works of Plato, Xenophon, Cicero, Plutarch, Laertius, etc.; but always closing the day's work “under the determinate sentence of David or Solomon, or the Evangelists and Apostolic Scriptures.” At odd hours, during this or the preceding period, they may have acquired the Italian tongue. “And soon after, but with wariness and good antidote, it would be wholesome enough to let them taste some choice comedies, Greek, Latin, or Italian; those tragedies also that treat of household matters, as Trachiniae, Alcestis, and the like.” He would next have them instructed in politics, “that they may not, in a dangerous fit of the commonwealth, be such poor, shaken, uncertain reeds, of such a tottering conscience, as many of our great counsellors have lately shown themselves, but steadfast pillars of the State. Then they should study the grounds of law and legal justice in the law of Moses, the remains of the Greek lawgivers, that of the Romans down to Justinian, and so down to the Saxon and Common Law of England and the Statutes.” The Sundays now, and the evenings, may be devoted to the highest matters of theology and Church history, and by this time they may have acquired the Hebrew tongue; “whereto,” he says, “it would be no impossibility to add the Chaldee and the Syrian dialect.”
* I. e. Imbue, affect, or infect. We still use it, but in rather a passive
sense, as when we say, “he had caught a fever.” Catch is, we think, a corruption of latch, from A. S. gelæccan, perf gelæhte, whence caught, while if it came from capio, it would be catched. In Macbeth (iv. 3) we meet with latch in the sense of catch, and we have the latch of a door, the latchet of a shoe. We would therefore read latched for lapsed, in
“For which if I be lapsed in this place.”—Twelfth Night, iii. 3; and in—
“But hast thou yet latched the Athenian's eyes
With the love-juice, as I did bid thee do P”
We would understand latch as catch in this place of Milton. We may observe that take is used in a somewhat similar manner. “No fairy takes "“a fruit that with the frost is taken.”—Surrey.
When all these employments are well conquered, then will the choice historians, heroic poems, and Attic tragedies of stateliest and most regal argument, with all the famous political orations, offer themselves; which if they were not merely read, but some of them got by memory and solemnly pronounced with right accent and grace, as might be taught, would endue them even with the spirit and vigour of Demosthenes or Cicero, Euripides or Sophocles.
The time is now come for teaching them logic and rhetoric, and the art of criticism, as developed in the works of Aristotle and Horace, and by Castelvetro, Tasso, Mazzoni, and others, among the Italians, which “teaches what the laws are of a true epic poem; what of a dramatic, what of a lyric, what decorum is, which is the grand masterpiece to observe . . . and show them what religious, what glorious and magnificent use might be made of poetry, both in Divine and human things.”
From hence, and not till now, will be the right season of forming them to be able writers and composers in every excellent matter, when they shall be thus fraught with a universal insight into things; or whether they be to speak in parliament or council, honour and attention would be waiting on their lips. There would then also appear in pulpits other visages, other gestures, and stuff otherwise wrought than what we now sit under; ofttimes to as great a trial of our patience, as any other that they preach to us. These are the studies wherein our noble and our gentle youth ought to bestow their time in a disciplinary way from twelve to one-and-twenty ; unless they rely more upon their ancestors, dead, than upon themselves, living : in which methodical course, it is so supposed, they must proceed by the steady pace of learning onward; as at convenient times, for memory’s sake, to retire back into the middle ward, and sometimes into the rear, of what they have been taught, until they have confirmed and solidly united the whole body of their perfected knowledge, like the embattling of a Roman legion.
They should be allowed an hour and a half before dinner, at noon, for exercise, and due rest after ; but the time for this might be enlarged, as they rose earlier or later in the morning, i.e. according to the time of the year.
The exercise which I commend first, is the exact use of their weapon, to guard and to strike safely with edge or point. This will keep them healthy, nimble, strong, and well in health; is also the likeliest means to make them grow large and tall, and to inspire them with a gallant and fearless courage, which, being tempered with seasonable lectures and precepts to them of true fortitude and patience, will turn into a native and heroic valour, and make them hate the cowardice of doing wrong. They must be also practised in all the locks and gripes of wrestling-wherein Englishmen were wont to excel,-as need may often be in fight to tug,